Last year, tensions ran high in a UofL residence hall after racially charged, hateful images were found on a whiteboard. On Thursday, UofL Theatre Arts opens a play in which art mimics those real life events.
“Baltimore,” a new play about the complexities of race on college campuses, runs Feb. 2-6 and Feb. 9-12 in Thrust Theatre.
Written by Kirsten Greenidge, “Baltimore” is part of the Big Ten Theatre Consortium’s New Play Initiative, which is dedicated to commissioning works by female playwrights to be produced at universities across the country.
It tells the story of Shelby Wilson, an African-American resident adviser for a diverse group of freshmen at a New England college. When a racist caricature is drawn on a black student’s dorm door, Wilson is forced to confront her belief that she lives in a post-racial society as she finds the courage to facilitate honest conversations about difference.
“I thought the show would be perfect for UofL’s campus because it’s similar to what happened in resident halls last year,” said Danielle Smart, theatre arts grad student who is playing the lead role of Shelby. “Hopefully, for students especially, this show will help begin to open conversations about issues surrounding race that can be hard to talk about.”
The play references national events, such as the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland.
Nefertiti Burton, theatre department chair, is directing. The themes couldn’t be more relevant given current events and the socio-political climate, she said.
“With the conversations that are taking place in the public sphere, I fear things aren’t going to get better easily. We’re going to have to really work together to build a society that benefits us all,” Burton said. “This play has lessons we can all benefit from, about how to talk to each other and value and respect each other.”
The audience will have a chance to respond to the play in writing in the lobby.
“We’ll bring the play out to the lobby space, in a sense, because it’s very much about hearing, seeing and speaking to people in an authentic way, so we want to create that opportunity for the audience,” Burton said.
The cast represents a diversity of ethnicities – as the play calls for – and acting backgrounds. Undergraduates, graduate students and those who’ve never acted all have roles, as does Kristi Papailler, Theatre teacher at Central High School and an alumnus of the theatre program.
“It’s a great effort from undergrads and individuals in the show just beginning to act,” Smart said. “They felt so moved and passionate about the show, they were able to successfully become those characters. It’s not just a theatre project, but a community project.”
Thrust Theatre is on UofL’s Belknap Campus, 2314 S. Floyd St. All plays start at 8 p.m. with 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for faculty, alumni and seniors and $8 for UofL students. Season tickets are $50. To order tickets or for more information, call the box office at (502) 852-6814 or click here.